The Anbar Campaign continues. The Washington Post reports Operation Sayaid (or “Hunter”) is designed to bolster the U.S. and Iraqi presence in the western Anbar region from Qaim to Haditha. Sayaid will add several U.S. battalions and Iraqi battalions to the region, as well as add several hundred Iraqi border guards along the Syrian border. Iraq’s 7th Army Division will provide for permanent security in the region. The focus is gaining control of the small towns and cities along the western bend of the Euphrates River where al Qaeda has established networks and safe houses.
The article stresses the importance of Rawah, and notes an Iraqi battalion is currently stationed there. We noted the strategic importance of Rawah in July, and pointed out that bridges were being taken out along the Euphrates to funnel traffic to more manageable locations in July.
The first phase of Operation Sayaid came in July when an Army squadron of Stryker vehicles, augmented for intelligence gathering, rolled south from Mosul to set up an outpost near the Euphrates River town of Rawah. The contingent of more than 1,000 troops established an American presence on the north side of the river; the Marines had been operating on the south side. Also arriving in Rawah was an Iraqi Intervention Force battalion.
The troops have imposed tight controls on traffic that now must use the single bridge in Rawah. U.S. warplanes this month blew up two smaller pontoon bridges farther west in the towns of Karabilah and New Ubaydi, making the Rawah river crossing even more critical.
General Casey, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq lays out the timetable; the plan is to “[restore] Iraqi control of its border by the end of November, before the December [parliamentary] elections.”
Operation Sayaid must be looked at in the greater context of the Anbar Campaign. The Coalition is often accused of not having a coherent plan to establish control in western Iraq, but the pace and design of operations over the past year do not support this conclusion.
Last fall, Fallujah was removed as the premier terrorist safe haven, which sat on the doorstep to Baghdad. Then operations in Mosul slowly pried Iraq’s second largest city from the grip of the insurgency. The spring and summer consisted of a series of operations in Qaim, Hit, Haditha, Ramadi, and a host of cities and towns that were designed to keep the enemy off balance and deny them freedom of action. [Note: the full compliment of major operations can be viewed here.]
In July, a large base was established in Rawah, the strategic town that sits at the crossroads of the Anbar province, with roads leading in all directions. Earlier this month, Tal Afar was removed as the northern terrorist safe haven, and Coalition forces moved into the city to establish control. The Rabiah crossing in the north and the Rutbah crossing in the south were secured. Raids and airstrikes along the Euphrates River continued during this time. Hundreds of al Qaeda and insurgent operators were killed or captured during these search and destroy missions.
The key to reaching the current phase of the Anbar Campaign is the availability of Iraqi troops. Tal Afar was the first operation where Iraqi forces took the lead, and outnumbered U.S. forces.
The Iraqi government has stated it will secure Tal Afar with Iraqi forces, yet still plans to send multiple battalions to western Anbar for Operation Sayaid. This indicates that Iraqi forces are now available to be deployed to the most dangerous regions of Iraq. Whether they are “fully operational” (able to provide for their own logistics or have organic heavy weapons) is immaterial. The Iraqi units will be taking to the fight to the insurgency in the heart of their area of operations.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.